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picture of woman having a mammogram

Regular mammography between the ages of 50 and 70 years has been shown to reduce breast cancer mortality.  Before 2018 most women in England and Wales were first invited for breast screening in the calendar year when they turned 50, 51 or 52 years. It is not known whether this three-year range makes a difference to subsequent mortality from breast cancer.  It is this knowledge gap that this study aims to investigate.

About the study

The Age at First Breast Screening Study began in 2008 and aims to investigate whether the age at which a woman is first invited to routine breast screening affects her subsequent risk of dying from breast cancer. To do this we are using data routinely collected by the National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales on around 1.4 million women who were born in 1945-1948. Our research is funded by Cancer Research UK.

Why are we doing this?

The NHS invites women aged 50 to 70 for routine breast screening once every three years and this screening saves around 1300 lives from breast cancer each year. While women become eligible for screening at age 50, in practice they are first invited between the ages of 50 and 53. It is not known whether this three-year range in age at first invitation makes a difference to the subsequent risk of dying from breast cancer. The results of this study have the potential to inform policy on the age at which women are first invited for routine breast screening and save further lives from breast cancer.

What data have we obtained and how are they used?

The NHS Breast Screening Programme provided us with data on first invitation to breast screening including personal identifiers such as name, date of birth, post code and NHS number. We sent the personal identifiers to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (now known as NHS Digital) so they could link to, and provide us with, follow-up data on cancer diagnoses and deaths that occurred up to 31 December 2012. The follow-up data includes date of cancer diagnosis, type of cancer, date of death and cause of death. We have not retained any personal identifiers except date of death for those women who have passed away. We retain date of death because it is needed for our analyses. The data are stored securely at the Nuffield Department of Population Health in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and with the procedures and policies of the University of Oxford. The data are only accessed by the study team. They have not and will not be shared with any third parties.

What data will we obtain?

We are extending follow-up for cancer diagnoses and deaths to 31 December 2019. The extended follow-up data will be provided by NHS Digital and will not include any personal identifiers other than date of death.

What approvals have been obtained for the study?

As this study involves data on around 1.4 million women, it was not possible for us to ask all the women if we could use their data. For this reason we have special approval to use the women’s data without their consent. For more details on this approval please see our privacy notice.

Is it possible to opt out of the study?

If you think that your data is being used in this study and wish to opt out then please contact Dr Isobel Barnes using the details below, giving your name and NHS number. You can find your NHS number on any letter you receive from the NHS. However, if you do not have any letters you can use the online service Find your NHS Number. We will pass your details on to NHS Digital and instruct them to stop providing us with follow-up data. We cannot delete any data we have already obtained as we do not retain personal identifiers other than date of death.

Who can I contact for more information?

For more information, please contact:
Dr Isobel Barnes, Nuffield Department of Population Health, Richard Doll Building, Oxford OX3 7LF.
Email: isobel.barnes@ndph.ox.ac.uk Tel: 01865 289600

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